There Can Be Only One: Roman Conceptions of Twins in the Augustan Succession

In May of 2015, I completed a Master of Arts degree in Art History at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Although not mandatory for students enrolled in the program, I chose to undertake the task of researching, assembling, and composing a graduate thesis, which had been a personal goal of mine. I was very fortunate to have benefited from the tutelage of numerous professors during my time at the university, but in particular from the members of my thesis committee, my advisor Christopher Gregg and the eminent Carol Mattusch.

My research built on papers I had written for seminars taken in the course of the program, with a number of revisions and refinements made in the intervening months. In its final form, the thesis spans some 65 pages of narrative explication divided into an introduction, three chapters, and a conclusion, with an additional 44 pages consisting of images and three short appendices.

The paper examines the cultural context and ideology of twins in Augustus’ succession planning, covering the four major twin pairs present in the Roman cultural psyche of the late Republic and early Empire: Castor and Pollux (Dioscuri, Gemini, Castores), Romulus and Remus (and Titus Tatius, too!), and the iconic twin pairs of the Lares and the Penates in their variety of permutations. Each of these has a different story to tell, stories which crisscross one another amid the vagaries of collective social memory.

With this contextual framework in mind, we then proceed to examine the appropriation of this “twinly” imagery into the ideology of the Augustan regime, with the intention of making autocratic succession palatable to a traditionally republican ruling class. The paper pays particular attention to the careers of the Caesares Gemini, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, grandsons of the emperor, and how their progression within the state apparatus represented an expansion of earlier “duality programs” under Augustus and Agrippa, and later in the duality of responsibilities shared by the emperor’s stepsons, Tiberius and Drusus. The program which Augustus designed for Gaius and Lucius in turn served as a model for future succession planning, particularly following their deaths and the subsequent ascension of Tiberius to the principate.

Details of the heads of statues expected to represent the grandsons of the emperor Augustus, Gaius (right) and Lucius (left).
Gaius and Lucius, heirs to the empire.

In the latter half of the paper, spanning chapters 2 and 3, we examine how this ideology of twins came to be represented in the art of the Augustan period. Particular attention is paid to the typology of the representations of Gaius and Lucius and the young Octavian (Augustus), and how these images synchronized in their emulation of the emperor’s physical appearance (Aemulatio Augusti), further expanding the acceptability of autocracy and succession in the Roman cultural landscape. Based on these findings, chapter 3 suggests a revision to John Pollini’s 1987 typology, as well as incorporating hitherto undefined members of their typological family.

Comparison of three portraits of a bearded Octavian? bearded Gaius? compared with the Augustus Prima Porta.
Aemulatio Augusti

Although it was my intention to revise and expand the paper to a manuscript suitable for publication, my departure from academia in 2016 has stalled this effort indefinitely. Much research remains to be done, but even more needs to be taken from notes and assembled in narrative form. Revisions, expansions, and generally any thoughts I have on the matter I will share on this blog – if there’s a lot to share, I will likewise construct a directory of posts to help organize the material.


You can download a PDF of the completed paper from the Mason Archival Repository System (MARS) of George Mason University via their permalink or by clicking on the cover page below:


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